THE Vicar started to cry. Easter Day’s Countryfile (BBC1) included a significant segment about the village church, starting from the nostalgic, chocolate-box image of glorious medieval buildings surrounded by daffodil-strewn churchyards, but then delving deeper, considering the church’s ministry, the part that the Church of England plays in the community, our viability, our future.
The priest wept as she recalled being instructed to remain at home and forbidden to exercise the heart of her calling: visiting the sick, the dying, the bereaved. Surely, when pandemic responses are analysed, this will be judged the Church of England’s most catastrophic failure: crucial evidence demonstrating our essential irrelevance, far more significant than the justifiable suspension of public worship.
Could not we clergy have been allowed to choose to be declared key workers, be issued with PPE, and live out our crucial work of pastoral engagement and caring? Looking forward, the programme produced the leaked document setting out financial crisis, reduction in clergy numbers, inevitable closure of churches, and introduced the thing that so many consider to be an incomprehensible and demoniacal imposition: parish share.
A Buckinghamshire vicar told her diocese that they simply could not pay their assessment, and found the implied threat that she might, therefore, have no successor close to blackmail. The interviewer did not pose the question that should always be asked: who, then, do you suggest might pay your stipend? As priest-in-charge of five village parishes, I know something of what I speak.
Finally, the Archbishop of York responded, affirming the commitment of the Church to continuing nation-wide ministry and rejecting mass church closures. This sensitive account covered a wide range of views, assuming always our ministry and witness to be a crucial element in the community’s well-being.
BBC1 offered the welcome innovation of broadcasting the Easter Day Eucharist from Canterbury Cathedral, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s sermon therefore becoming his Easter message to the nation, and generally giving it a far higher profile than hitherto. The glorious building looked wonderful, the rebuilt organ sounded terrific, and the range of choirs and young international readers and intercessors from the Lambeth St Anselm Community presented a rich and broad experience.
This was no spiritual comfort food for nostalgics who like that kind of thing, but a contemporary and worldwide challenge rooted in ancient truth and beauty. (Could someone from Radio 3 tell BBC1 that Mozart wrote more than one mass setting, and we like to know which one we are hearing?)
Handel’s Messiah from English National Opera (BBC2, Holy Saturday) was simply marvellous: a multicultural line-up of young soloists, and a band and chorus socially distanced throughout the Coliseum. But, with schedules so full of dross, why was this jewel allotted a mere hour, omitting so many favourite numbers?